Poets, students to participate in festival

By Bonnie Berger

A three-day contemporary poetry celebration commences with the 17th annual Beall Poetry Festival at 7 p.m. today.

Designed to honor outstanding contemporary poets and exceptionally gifted students, the festival features poetry readings as well as panel discussions from three distinguished poets, Natasha Trethewey, George Lensing and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill. Acclaimed poetry critic Susan Stewart will also speak.

“It’s a chance for all of us to hear three world-class poets and a world-class critic talk about the virtues of poetry and how poetry can bring us into other people’s lives,” said Dr. Richard Russell, associate professor of English and Beall Poetry Festival chair.

Beginning with the Student Literary Awards, an event designed to honor the top three short story contestants, and the top three poetry students, the festival melds professional literary giants with talented students, promoting a love of the art form.

“[Students] get the chance to meet and talk to well-known and established poets, professors, lecturers, writers, researchers and story tellers,” said Denver senior and president of English honor society Sigma Tau Delta Hollis Boice. “They have an amazing opportunity to talk about how to go about becoming good writers.”

Through the numerous events and readings, students have exciting opportunities to connect on a personal level with the speakers.

“Students sometimes also get the chance to attend lunch with the poets where they have the opportunity to ask more specific questions and hear some tailored advice that the poets have to offer,” Boice said.

The festival committee, composed of faculty and several graduate students, began advertising for the event and choosing participants a year ago, Russell said.

“This year, we have three women speaking for the first time ever, which is pretty cool,” Russell said.

Stewart, professor of English at Princeton University and the Avalon Foundation University professor in the Humanities, is a reputable poet and critic, receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award for Columbarium in 2003. In 2010, the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded her the Academy Award in Literature. Her most recent series of poems is titled “Red Rover.”

Trethewey is a professor of English and the Phillis Wheatly distinguished chair in poetry at Emory University. Well known in her field, Trethewey’s most recent collection of poems, “Native Guard,” earned her a Pulitzer Prize. Her fourth series of poems will be published in 2012.

Lensing, a venerable faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the Mann Family Distinguished Professor of English. A leading scholar of American poetry, Lensing is especially knowledgeable regarding Wallace Stevens, authoring “Wallace Stevens and the Seasons,” a 2001 literary criticism.

Dhomhnaill, who was born in Lancashire, England, before she moved to Ireland, specializes in Irish Gaelic poetry, writing her poems in the traditional Irish language for English translation. The Naughton Fellow and distinguished visiting professor of Irish poetry at the University of Notre Dame, Dhomhnaill’s most recent work is “The Fifty Minute Mermaid.”

“This year, we have one particular poet, [Dhomhnaill], who will be reading some of her poetry in its original Irish,” Boice said. “I don’t think we can get that experience anywhere except the festival.”

Russell said students and attendants can expect to be inspired by the festival’s events.

“We hope students get exposed to good poetry and learn how musical poetry can be when it’s read aloud,” Russell said. “That’s a big part of it, just hearing the readings in person. It makes the poetry really come alive.”

“We hope students get exposed to good poetry and learn how musical poetry can be when it’s read aloud,” Russell said. “That’s a big part of it, just hearing the readings in person. It makes the poetry really come alive.”

Established in 1994 by Virginia Ball to further poetry appreciation, the festival is supported by the John A. and DeLouise McClelland Beall Endowed Fund.

For a complete schedule of events, visit https://www.baylor.edu/beall/ or call the English department at 254-710-1768. All events are free and open to the public.